In the first part of a series of articles addressing some of the key issues in the revenue sharing debate we consider the early history of the Tour de France and how the Amaury family came to wield power over the race.
Tour de France history 101 tells us that, away back in 1900, a French sports paper was created as a rival to Pierre Giffard’s then dominant Le Vélo. With the assistance of fellow industrialists Adolphe Clément and Edouard Michelin, Jules-Albert (the Comte) de Dion launched L’Auto-Vélo. Henri Desgrange and Victor Goddet – who were making names for themselves managing the Parc des Princes vélodrome – were brought on board to act as editor and financial controller.
Initially, things went well for the men at L’Auto-Vélo but by the closing months of 1902 the future was looking far from bright. Their rival, Le Vélo, was challenging their right to include the word “vélo” in their title, claiming it was a clear case of passing-off and would confuse readers as to which paper was which. In early 1903, L’Auto-Vélo was forced to change its name, becoming L’Auto.
How long the paper would last under that moniker though was open to debate: circulation was in the doldrums and making the paper pay its own way was proving difficult. A variety of publicity stunts, such as sports events to be promoted by the paper, were dreamt up by the paper’s editorial team. One of these was to take the notion of a Six-Day track race and put it on the roads of France. The race would be a bicycling tour of France. Thus was born the Tour. A circulation-boosting publicity stunt for an ailing newspaper.
The Father Of The Tour
Géo Lefèvre, L’Auto-Vélo‘s cycling editor, was the man who came up with the idea of the Tour de France in late 1902 and it was to him that the task of organising the first Tour in 1903 fell. His boss, Desgrange, stayed very much in the background. Once success was assured, Desgrange stepped forward. And became the Father of the Tour.
In fairness to Desgrange, he did earn the right to be called the Tour’s father. He tried to mould the race in his own image, make the nascent sport of cycling bend to his will, his vision of what it should be. And – crazy and all as some of Desgrange’s ideas were – during the three decades that he ran the race it grew and grew. Better, it captured the public’s imagination, became a French institution. And, on the back of the Tour’s success, L’Auto prospered, becoming France’s dominant sports newspaper, either taking over its rivals or driving them out of business.
The Son of the Tour
Ill health hit Desgrange in the mid thirties and the next generation stepped up to the plate: his assistant, Jacques Goddet. The son of Victor Goddet – the man who held L’Auto-Vélo‘s purse strings when Géo Lefèvre first punted the idea of the Tour de France in 1902 – he had briefly tried his hand at cycling before joining the newspaper his father had helped to establish, as a reporter. Upon the death of Victor Goddet, his shares in L’Auto and the Parc des Princes passed to his sons, Jacques and Maurice. The latter is generally overlooked in most histories of the Tour but he did make one contribution to its history: toward the end of the thirties, he sold his shares in L’Auto to a group of businessmen who were sympathetic to the Nazis.
Maurice Goddet was not the only L’Auto shareholder who cashed in with the Germans. Raymond Petenôtre had held the major shareholding in the company but, as the thirties drew to a close, was living in the US. Managing his affairs back in France was Albert Lejeune, a man with his own newspaper interests in Paris and Nice. Lejuene sold Patenôtre’s shares. Like Maurice Goddet, he sold them to men sympathetic to the Nazi cause.
The 1939 Tour de France ended shortly before the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war. Plans were made for a Tour in 1940 – Desgrange was even hopeful of welcoming an American team for the first time – but these were shelved after the Germans blitzkrieged France into submission. In August 1940 Desgrange died and full responsibility for the Tour and L’Auto fell to Jacques Goddet.
Goddet’s management of the Tour during the years of the German Occupation is generally praised: simply put, while other bike races continued during the war years, there was no Tour. The authorities had requested that he run the race in 1941 but – after first arguing that sport and politics should not mix and therefore the Tour should continue during the Occupation – Goddet declined.
In 1942, Jean Leulliot, a former L’Auto staffer and manager of the French team that won the 1937 Tour, organised an imitation Tour de France – the Circuit de France – under the aegis of the right-wing La France Socialiste. L’Auto responded by organising a fantasy Tour, inviting its readers to nominate a fantasy French team to ride a fantasy Tour de France. The following year, L’Auto followed that up by promoting a Grand Prix du Tour de France, which was based on the results of a series of one-day races it still ran in France, including Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours races. The GP Du Tour de France was again organised in 1944.
During this time, L’Auto had continued to publish, tending to be sympathetic toward both the puppet Vichy government of Marshal Pétain and the occupying Germans. Goddet, who had been editing the paper since the early thirties, could (and did) argue that he was only following orders from his board of directors. However, some believed that he was unnecessarily zealous in the carrying out of those orders. Upon the liberation of France in 1944, L’Auto – like all papers which had continued to publish during the Occupation – was closed and its assets seized by the state.
Goddet’s war record is complicated somewhat by his role in the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv: the 1942 round-up by French police in Paris of more than 10,000 non-national Jews – men, women and children – and their subsequent deportation to concentration camps. Many of them were held for nearly a week at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, originally built and owned by Henri Desgrange and Victor Goddet. Jacques Goddet was the man in charge of the stadium when the round-up commenced. When the authorities asked him to hand over the keys, he complied.
Post-Libération France began to try and recover its pre-war normalcy. And to come to terms with the Occupation. New newspapers were licensed to replace those closed upon the Libération, first came general-interest newspapers and then, in early 1946, a number of sports titles. Goddet was granted permission to launch one of the latter, in offices across the road from his old ones at L’Auto. That paper was L’Équipe. It was L’Auto in all but name and the yellow newsprint the old paper had been published on. It also differed from the old L’Auto in that it didn’t have title to the Tour de France. That was still suspended.
In 1946 two ersatz Tours were run, five-day stage races which sought to capture the spirit of the Tour. In early July, Ce Soir – one of the pre-war general-interest newspapers to survive, having been banned during the Occupation – organised La Ronde de France, running from Bordeaux to Paris. For this venture Ce Soir partnered with the newly launched Sports newspaper. In late July, Le Parisien Libéré – a general interest newspaper launched by Émilien Amaury on the eve of the liberation of Paris – promoted La Course du Tour de France, running from Monaco to Paris. In this, Le Parisien Libéré teamed up with La Société du Parc des Princes, the company which controlled Paris’s vélodromes. And was co-owned – and controlled in all but name – by Jacques Goddet.
The Tour’s New Uncle
Émilien Amaury was a self-made man who, the story goes, left home before he was a teenager and, associating himself with men of influence, quickly rose through the ranks of power. At the outset of the war he fought against the invading Germans. During the Occupation, Pétain gave Amaury a role in the new Vichy regime, putting him in charge of propaganda for the well-being of the family. Amaury, though, was a résistant (codenamed Jupiter) and used his position to help the cause. Résistance was not just about blowing things up; there was also the clandestine publishing of news and propaganda. Amaury was able to use his position within the Vichy power structure to help here, procuring newsprint and access to printing presses. One of these was L’Auto‘s.
With the end of the Occupation in sight, Amaury became one of France’s post-Libération oligarchs, deciding to get into the newspaper and magazine business. From the ashes of Le Petite Parisien – the newspaper which had published Albert Londres’ denunciation of the Tour de France in 1924 – he created Le Parisien Libéré, which was initially housed in Le Petite Parisien‘s former offices. Amaury added other titles to his embryonic empire, including a weekly magazine, Carrefour, in which Goddet invested.
Having used L’Auto‘s printing presses to publish Résistance propaganda during the Occupation, Amaury – who had significant clout in Gaullist circles – came to Goddet’s aid when, during France’s post-Libération purge, Goddet was charged with collaboration. The seriousness of the collaboration charges faced by Goddet should not be underestimated: more than 26,000 collaborators were sentenced to terms of imprisonment; more than 13,000 were sentenced to hard labour; as many as 7,000 death sentences were handed down (although fewer than 800 of them were actually carried out). One man of the press who received the ultimate sanction was Albert Lejeune, publisher of the Paris-based Le Petit Journal and the Nice-based Le Petit Niçois. Lejeune was creator, in 1933, of Paris-Nice, and the man who was responsible for the sale of L’Auto‘s majority shareholding to the Nazis.
Goddet also had Amaury’s support when it came to reclaiming title to the Tour de France. The spirit of the Tour having been resurrected in 1946, it was time to engage in the fight proper over its name and its heritage. This fight was a microcosm of the greater fight that was then ongoing for the soul of France itself: it was a fight between the left and the right. Ce Soir and Sport were papers of the left, the latter a Communist paper. Amaury and his Le Parisien Libéré were Gaullists. Goddet and his L’Équipe, while not quite Gaullist, were firmly on the right.
The fight proper commenced in the Autumn of 1946 when two rival applications were submitted to the FFC and the UCI to run three-week stage races in France in 1947. Ce Soir put in an application for the Ronde de France, to run from June 20 to July 14. La Société du Parc des Princes put in an application to run the Tour de France from June 24 to July 20. Two rival national tours, running at the same time. Someone would have to lose. At it’s December 1946 congress the UCI granted the calendar slot to the Tour de France.
The new UCI-sanctioned Tour de France was to be run by the Goddet-controlled La Société du Parc des Princes, with Amaury’s Le Parisien Libéré as financial partner. But, before the war, La Société du Parc des Princes was co-owned by L’Auto and the assets of L’Auto were now owned by the state, through the Société Nationale des Entreprises de Presse (SNEP). In collaboration with the Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française (FNPF) the SNEP claimed title to the newly-sanctioned Tour through L’Auto‘s 49.5% stake in La Société du Parc des Princes. Having been shunned by the UCI in their attempt to win the Tour’s calendar slot, Ce Soir and Sports then publicly called on the FNPF to organise the 1947 Tour itself, with the FNPF’s member journals underwriting some of the costs.
Émilien Amaury, though, was busy behind the scenes spiking the guns of Ce Soir and Sports. Using all the political clout he had available to him, he convinced the SNEP and the FNPF to ignore Ce Soir and Sports and grant full control of the Tour to La Société du Parc des Princes, leaving it up to them to decide how to finance the race. La Société du Parc des Princes was not without suitors offering to come on board and shoulder the financial burden of running the race. In the end – just weeks before the 1947 Tour commenced – two were chosen: L’Équipe and Le Parisien Libéré.
Jacques Goddet had finally and categorically won the battle to secure the rights of the Tour for L’Auto‘s spiritual successor, L’Équipe, though at the price of having to cede 50% of the race to Émilien Amaury. Within two decades Amaury would own the Tour outright when, in 1965, Goddet found himself in financial straits and sold L’Équipe to Amaury’s growing media empire. Goddet would remain a feature of the race until the late eighties, but the destiny of the Tour was now in the hands of the Amaurys.